The second report on hill climbing by Francis Schofield.
Francis and James do Hill Climbs, Week 2/4:
Weekend 2 of the Hill climb season was to be the hardest yet for James and I, as we both signed up to race two events on Saturday and two events on Sunday, including the prestigious Catford and Bec CC Hill Climbs.
On Saturday the 6thwe raced the Brighton Mitre Steyning and Mill Hill climbs, which were great fun. The climbs are both in fairly close proximity to where I live (with Mill Hill being near Shoreham and Steyning Bostal in Steyning). I mostly wanted to focus on the climbs on Sunday, which were bigger targets for me, yet I still pushed hard on both climbs. I’d done Steyning the weekend beforehand, so wasn’t such a big deal, but Mill Hill is a climb that suited me more, as it is a relatively flat climb, but much longer. I rode up Steyning in misty and windy conditions, completing it in a time of 4:45, which wasn’t my best, being 7 seconds slower than the weekend before. I did encounter some bike setup issues on the climb though, which didn’t help. James rode it in a time of 4:43. The conditions weren’t as good as the weekend before, yet we both did pretty well, with the notorious Junior rider Theo Tadros beating our times by quite a margin.
We then drove over to Mill Hill, which started in the afternoon. Since the morning it had started to rain really heavily and the wind was a bigger factor on the exposed ridge that the road ascends. Very few people actually started this climb as the conditions were so horrible, yet we put on our arm warmers and set off at the start line. The road was like a river, with the rain never ceasing for a second. We finished in times of F 10:35 and J 10:49, which was far off our best times on the hill. I managed to beat Theo into 1stplace junior, which I was really happy with, winning a massive bottle of Lucozade (possibly the weirdest prize I’ve ever won). There wasn’t any competition for the Juvenile category, yet James did set two really good times.
On Sunday we both headed up to the Catford and Bec CC Hill Climbs, which take place on York’s Hill and White Lane near Sevenoaks in Kent. The annual Catford Hill Climb is arguably the oldest cycling event in the world, with its first edition taking place in 1887, albeit not on York’s Hill. Both climbs are very short but also insanely steep, with maximum gradients of about 25% (1:4)! And large sections of about 20% (1:5). These climbs have been cycled by some notable names in cycling; including ex-Pro David Millar & Ned Boulting (both of whom currently commentate on ITV for cycling), Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton’s father and other notable riders.
The climbs both looked very daunting, with some video footage of previous years showing riders falling off their bikes during the steepest part, with the current Female National Champion Joselin Lowden almost coming to a standstill… Would we make it to the top in one piece?
Nevertheless, we both arrived on race day and rode up the climbs as fast as we possibly could. I actually missed my start time due to poor organisation, so I technically received an official time of about 27 minutes, which just might be the slowest time ever in the oldest cycling event in the world! James completed it in a time of 2:40 (64/129th overall, being the fastest juvenile there and I completed it in an unofficial time of about 2:48 or so. I was really annoyed after this, mostly with my lack of a proper warmup, missed start time and tyres that were pumped up too hard (the climb was quite damp and most people had slippy wheels all the way up, which really didn’t help). It was my key climb for the year and I messed it up, which partially ruined my mental attitude for later.
We then drove over to White Lane for the Bec. I had tried to calm myself down for it as best as possible yet remained quite stressed and frustrated. For the Bec, James completed the climb in a great time of 2:28(60/96thoverall, winning the Juvenile prize again!) and I completed it in a time of 2:21 (51/90thoverall). On both events I missed my target of getting on the Junior podium, but I’ve put my losses behind me now. The crowds on the climbs were the biggest and best we’d ever ridden past and the events were great fun altogether. The climbs were very difficult to ascend and painfully steep, yet we both agreed that we preferred White Lane. The experience felt amazing, like riding in the Tour de France and they were also great events to watch. In hindsight, they were both really great events, allowing us to race on the steepest gradients against some of the best hill climbers in the country with Rowan Brackston and Chris Crabtree winning both events in phenomenal times).